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Week of 6.26.09

Homes for the Homeless?

What to do with foreclosed houses—How about letting homeless families move in? An innovative idea that's also illegal.

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American streets are littered with foreclosed houses, but one daring advocate says these homes shouldn't go to waste. He encourages and facilitates homeless squatting. It's an idea that addresses two issues at once - homelessness and foreclosed homes—and it's also illegal.

The Weekly Q
This week, NOW travels to Miami to meet with Max Rameau, an advocate for the homeless. Rameau's organization, Take Back the Land, identifies empty homes that are still livable, and tries to find responsible families willing to take the enormous legal risks of moving in.

Rameau, who considers his mission an act of civil disobedience, says it's immoral to keep homes vacant while there are human beings living on the street. But while these squatters have morality in their hearts, they don't have the law on their side.

With the faltering economy separating so many people from their homes, what's society's responsibility to those short on shelter?

Related Links

Take Back the Land

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Web Features

Middle Class and Newly Homeless
See how the new ranks of homeless are coping with their unsettling realities.

In Your State: Housing Help
Resources for the homeless or those at risk of losing their home.

Facts & Figures: The Homeless
The latest information about homelessness in America.
In the News

CNN: Homeless woman's plea to Obama draws flood of support

The Los Angeles Times: Homeless numbers 'alarming'

The National: US shelters see spike in families left out on street

NY Daily News: Homeless flock to Brooklyn luxury condo in hopes of scoring shelter

NPR: Homeless Advocate Goes High Tech

USA Today: Economic casualties pile into tent cities

WHRRL: Hardly Normal is at Nickelsville in Seattle a picture tour of a tent city for Seattle's homeless.

Viewer Comments

Commenter: Student in NY
I agree with those who say, while it is commendable to try helping those in need, the attitude of "take what you need at all costs" is not the answer. In a perfect world everyone would have a job and houses would be affordable, and people would be responsible and respectful. That is not reality however, and the sad truth is there are people who break in and live in houses that are well-occupied and are able to go undetected for a while. We can't be encouraging this attitude. We need to look at home pricing and why people are homeless in the first place. Sorry to inform some of you, few people are homeless for legitimate reasons. I would not want some drug addict or insane person who could harm me living on the same street illegally. I think I agree most with Ricardo's sentiment - if you get into the house and are driven out, perhaps you should be the one to stay. Homeless people who couldn't get a house at all anywhere (not much personal responsibility going on apparently), not so much. For those of you with mentally challenged family who you supposedly care for, you take care of them. Don't impose it on everybody else.


Commenter: Mark Gabrish Conlan
Max Rameau is my new hero! As a society we've too long elevated the rights of property (and its owners) over those of humanity in general. It's time to confront the notion that property owners ("rent-seekers," in economic parlance -- people who get money simply from owning something without working for it) always know best. Unoccupied foreclosed-on homes are often stripped, illegally occupied (not by tenant families carefully screened by Rameau's organization but by drug dealers, criminals and people with alcohol or drug issues), vandalized and allowed to run down, in some cases to the point where they have to be destroyed. We need to move towards a new conception of property ownership in this country, an acknowledgment that all land and all resources belong to all the people and their owners merely hold them in trust for future generations, and while property rights should not be interfered with lightly or arbitrarily they should also not be held supreme over other values such as life and liberty. More power to Max Rameau, the members of his organization and the families he's helping!


Commenter: Amigo
Thanks so much for bringing these heart-breaking stories to light -

Our President and the Elected Reps of BOTH parties have ABANDONED the people of this country and has their ears only for Corporate Welfare !! [ Oh ofcourse, unless it is election time - - ]

This is no Democracy; IT IS A ''C-O-R-P-O-C-R-A-C-Y'' !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Commenter: Ricardo Roque
How could some think about placing the homeless in the foreclosed houses, When the previous owners were forced out of their homes and became homeless themself because of the economy. If someone is allowed to move back into those houses it should be the original owners.


Commenter: smearjay
We should rename your organization from PBS to SBS. (Socialist Broadcasting Station)


Commenter: Dawn Bushman
I've been asked to resubmit this with a link for a better information.

Earlier this year, I had heard about the groups encouraging people to go to foreclosed homes and live in them as squatters.

I felt there was a better way, given that this is illegal in most areas, to assist the homeless by using the foreclosed homes.

The idea would be to use the federal bailout money to fund a program with HUD that would lease foreclosed homes from the banks and use them as shelters for homeless. This would provide people with a safe roof over their heads and provide a genuine income for the banks holding ownership of the properties.

Here's the link on my blog:

http://genealotech.blogspot.com/2009/03/my-idea-for-using-bailout-money.html

Be sure to check out the column on the right hand side to see a short list of other ideas I have to make our government work smarter.


Commenter: Joel B. McEachern
Re: The work of Mr. Max Rameau

Dear NOW,

As a graduate of Miami-Dade's school of political posturing, Mr. Max Rameau's important work in behalf of the homeless is an nothing less than exercise in courage.

In progressive environments like California, his work would be characterized as "homesitting," a clever solution to the problem of vacant homes. In development-obsessed Florida, placing needy families is called squatting. What a difference a state makes.

In a long ago issue of the "Harvard Business Review," there was an article on the importance of listening to those in an organization who may take a different but just as important view on diffcult problems; problems like homelessness for example.

The City of Miami and Metro-Dade County governments would be well-served by Mr. Rameau's dedication and vision; assuming, of course, they have the courage.


Commenter: Dawn Riemke
Mark Rameau, i applaud all of your efforts. I live in Michigan and its bad here homes are being foreclosed on everyday and just sitting there while people i have seen actually sleeping under via docks off the express way. The shelters here are full and there is a waiting list for most of them. Taking a ride within a 10 block radius of my home i counted over 40 homes, its ridiculus and the department of social services is lacking desperatley trying to keep up , i know all this too well . my daughter is homeless and i have tryed everything to find her a place, we are dealing with courts beause she has had issues and cant stay with me beause i am raising her daughter and also helping a disabled woman here . my daughter has straighten out her issues and all i want for her is to find a place to live . i have been told if i let her stay here they will remove my granddaughter, what a choice huh ? i dont sleep at night because i worry for her and have even thought of her squatting until the courts allow her back home. My heart goes out to all the homeless peoplee i wish i had a bigger house to take them all in. you are doing a great job helping others, i just wish you could make a trip to Michigan and start a program here. i have begged for help for my daughter, she is 20 yrs old a bi-polar depressant with medical issues and now a recovering addict because of being on the streets she has been hurt mentally and physically and the system has closed the doors many times on her, thank you for allowing me to see that there are people out there willing to chance so much to help others, makes me want to fight harder in order to save my family from becoming homeless, as well as stepping up to help others. thanks for your story it has inspired me more than you'll ever know.


Commenter: Heriberto Olavarria
I live in So.Florida and have a home a few times got behind and almost homeless,have been struggling to keep home just hanging in there.I have seen lots of people loose home and become homeless.The banks got all millions and the homes empty.Instead of working something out with the families so the homes are not empty so they can become vandalize or become crack and drugs.Not saying to live free but pay some rent and keep home clean and livable so the value of homes don't deprecate.Instead of nice neighborhoods looking like getos.I have seen brand new homes vandalize so bad,its will cost the banks more money in the long run than if they would have a family there and work something out.The government should do something about it not just talk.I have been trying to get help for over threes and nothing.I have been lucky and blessed that I have not lost my home.Becuse of my trade even thoug it has been slow.


Commenter: Larry Thelen
This could all be made legal. Squatting till you become property owner is part of our history, called adverse possession. More reasonably, local government could use its eminent domain authority to requisition (take) not the full ownership, but leaseholds, in vacant foreclosed properties and make it available to the needy. That's a certified public purpose. Rent would be paid from welfare payments. Then, the lender gets some income while arranging for a foreclosure sale, the homeless get shelter, and the asset will not become a nuisance.


Commenter: lisanne
Go Max Go


Commenter: Brent
Max is my new hero! Pushing against the status quo and fighting the banks from the ground level is brilliant!


Commenter: M. J. Parker
I have now watched -- twice -- your feature on the newly homeless, "Take Back the Land". While no one could fail to be moved by the plight of those displaced in this recession, nor should anyone fail to see and hear the bias in your presentation. Whether intended by the correspondent and/or the editor, the "show" clearly belongs to Mr. Rameau and his various acts of "civil disobedience". The gentleman who chairs the homeless trust was but a footnote to the piece, on camera for less than ten percent of the time the piece ran. And, although reference was made to the fact that on-street homelessness in Miami has been reduced 90 percent in just 16 years, you allowed Mr. Rameau's statement to stand that the system just was not working. While NOTHING, private or public, is ever perfect, the efforts in Miami to shelter the homeless sound unusually successful. In conclusion, while I found this piece very moving, its seeming support of the concept of "take what you need no matter to whom it belongs" is a frightening and, I fear, ultimately dangerous trend in America.


Commenter: Brenda
This guy is reprehensible in more ways than one! He doesn't care about the homeless or he would have made legal arrangements to help them. He point-blank unabashedly admitted he will do nothing for individuals, only "families" which for him seems to mean one woman and eleven others of her hangers-on. This is a third-world bad behavior coming to the states. Can't we learn from the failures of Latin America that endless overpopulation in obeisance to the Roman Catholic Church will lead to nothing but endless, abject poverty. You should have intereviewed someone doing something about homelessness including trying to have the government take over these houses we have already funded the banks for. Your questionnaire is bogus since those of us who want homeless LEGALLY put in homes have no way to answer. I am disgusted.


Commenter: Loretta Huston
I totally agree that this housing mess is a result of this deeply flawed system of Capitalism. All along as I was witnessing the craze to turn real estate into a rampant profiteering business, it was doomed to seriously destroy our most basic human right, a place of Home.
I applaud Max Rameau for courageously taking a proactive stance for what is Morally Just. Often the most brilliant solutions are so very basic and a sense of urgency requires bold maneuvers to shed light on the inadequacies of our inappropriate and outdated "legal" system.


Commenter: B Woodin
Surely there is some way for banks and homeless people, particularly those evicted from homes, to work together on this. It is appalling and shortsighted to leave empty foreclosed homes to just sit there when so many people need homes. The head of homeless shelters-Miami-Dade says it's illegal, cased closed. Meanwhile they are spending $$ to build more homeless shelters which often separate families. This is no solution! Banks and people like Mr. Rameau should work together to get people into decent homes that provide solutions to their plight - illegal or not, Mr. Rameau deserves a lot of credit for putting families into empty homes. There HAS TO BE A WAY THIS CAN WORK. To the banks and property managers - look at other options for empty homes. This is an untenable situation in the U.S. Where is our innovation and creativity when we need it??


Commenter: al w
RAMEAU'S APPROACH BRINGS UP A MYRIAD OF LEGAL,ETHICAL AND MORAL ISSUES.AS A LANDLORD LIVING WITH THIS CRISIS AND ONE WHO HAS EXPERIENCED JUST ABOUT EVERY POSSIBLE HOUSING SITUATION I CAN ONLY SAY..HUD HAS THE CAPABILITY OF ISSUING VOUCHERS TO HOMLESS AND POTENTIALLY HOMELESS PEOPLE TO LEGALLY OCCUPY THESE BUILDINGS SHOULD THEY MEET MINIMUM HOUSING STANDARDS.. AND THE OWNER APPROVES..THERE ARE SERIOUS CIVIL AND CRIMINAL ISSUES WHEN CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE RESULTS IN ACTIVITY THAT CAN HAVE A LONG TERM IMPACT ON THE VICTIMS WHO WILL CARRY A FURTHER STIGMA IF THEY ARE DRAWN INTO A SYSTEM THAT TO OFTEN MAKES THEIR SITUATION WORSE..LIKE BEING SHOT BY SOME COP BY MISTAKE FOR BREAKING IN OR BEING HURT IN A SUBSTANDARD BUILDING.... THE SYSTEM IS FAILING AND NEITHER PAST OR PRESENT POLICY IS HELPING THE LOWER OR MIDDLE CLASS TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM AT HAND.. YET... I HAVE SEEN VERY LITTLE WITH THE TRILLIONS SPENT SO FAR TO BE ENCOURAGED...PROPERTY TAX WHICH FUNDS SCHOOLS,POLICE,FIRE,WATER,SEWER..ETC IS ANOTHER ISSUE AND IS THE NEW TIME BOMB WHICH THE SHOW MIGHT HAVE MENTIONED AND IS SUBJECT FOR FURTHER DISCUSSION..NO RENT,NO MONEY TO FUND THE TAXES..


Commenter: Catherine
Another illuminating Now broadcast. Wow. When I hear the banks have already been paid, I question if their behavior is even capitalism. Price paid. Taxpayers paid for the houses, taxpayers need to benefit this time. Remember the S and L crisis? Same old thing. Take Back the Land is something new, and it just seems right.

I watched the segment of Max being interviewed on a business television program. To see the four reporters sitting there going up against one person, and none of them even brought up the fact that banks had been paid, I was stunned really. Four reporters?

I see the public housing money corruption here too. I don't know if money has been stolen, but in a way, it has been when a city watches families, emergency workers, artists, nurses, professionals leaving the city in droves, and does nothing to provide, quickly, affordable housing.

When I think to all the tax breaks counties gave to businesses to move in to districts, forgiving all the taxes that could have perhaps bailed us out today, Take Back the Land is the same thing, only for the benefit of homeless families. That seems just. Especially given the homes are paid for by the bailout of toxic assets.

Thank you for doing this program, and sharing the courage of Max, Take Back the Land, and the many families who risk actions against them just to have a decent roof over their heads.

Inspiring. Thank you.


Commenter: Luke Rogers
Max Rameau your the MAN!!! The Banks won't work with home owners if there is late charges on the account or behind on monthly payments. They (Banks) throw out the owner get a toxic write off then try to resell the house at half the value but that half is all profit! The Government is helping put there own people on the street! What is going on? Who is the stupid ass that thought this great plan of action up?? By the time the house is sold,if ever, the place is a dump with part of the place missing. Why not just work with the home owner thats is in the home? As long as there is government buy outs for these low life bankers there is going to be more homeless?


Commenter: Dale Averill
Sadly in Massachusetts we have a law that allows Municipalities to take over vacant houses and deal with the Banks afterwood. I have heard nothing of any cities or towns using this law. Meanwhile families are put up in motels. This is wasting money when a better solution exists.


Commenter: Dave in Tampa
Empty houses are a problem for neighborhoods. Homelessness, particularly among families does no one any good. We--banks, government, foundations or other institutions are not doing enough to help prevent foreclosures and homelessness.

Commercial news coverage is wall-to-wall about Michael Jackson, yet does nothing about the hundreds of thousands suffering.

Banks and other mortgage lenders should be forced to modify loans in trouble, including the principle, because they are not doing it now.

We should all be ashamed of our society, and each of us shares personal blame if we remain silent and doing nothing about the problem.


Commenter: Dawn Bushman
I've had a similar idea, only one that uses bailout money to fund a program that leases foreclosed homes from the banks to use for homeless shelters. This will allow the banks to generate a genuine income from the properties. I have more on my blog.


Commenter: Lisanne
GO MAX GO!


Commenter: Greg
While I love the idea of giving foreclosed homes to the homeless, I can't help but see the cruel irony here. If we can simply give away homes to homeless people why couldn't we just let the original home buyers keep the home in the first place? The people that lost their home might now be homeless themselves and thus deserving of the home too.


Commenter: Thomas Yarbrough
Homeless people should not be allowed to squat in foreclosed homes. These homes are worth money and the homeless have no stake in maintaining the property, unless some kind of contract is made between the banks and the homeless to keep it clean, and some overseer to make sure the contract is being upheld.

WEB FEATURES
Homes for the Homeless?

Middle Class and Newly Homeless

In Your State: Housing Help

Facts & Figures: The Homeless


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